The instinct hadn’t let him be lately, distracting him when he was working, plaguing him when he was trying to sleep, unnerving him when Beth kept calling and she wasn’t the one he could turn to about this. Worse? She wasn’t even the one he wanted to turn to.
But how could you tell your best friend weeks after he turned you back into a vampire that he was every thought that consumed your head?
There were urges, sure, urges to keep Josef within his sight at all times and ones that ran even deeper than that. Deep enough to make Mick’s blood boil and his heart beat thunderously, teeth aching for a snack and jaw screaming to lock around Josef’s and never let go until his sire was singing in his veins. As much as he shoved down these urges he wouldn’t allow himself to entirely ignore the primal instinct to check on Josef, to make sure he was still breathing even though he had three-hundred years on Mick and certainly didn’t need his new charge checking in on him.
The feeling that something was wrong, that something was hunting Josef… it wouldn’t leave him alone no matter how often or how deeply he forced himself to think of Beth. There was no reason why he should believe his friend to be in danger, no explanation for it save that ever since he had begged Josef to turn him, despite Josef knowing how much he had desperately wanted to live his life as a human again, it was like there was this invisible thread between them. Josef was probably oblivious to it, as he was most things unless they involved humans getting too smart or suspicious, and putting everyone at a great and terrible risk that Mick surprisingly never concerned himself over. He figured Josef did it enough for the two of them.
That thread was pulled taut now, almost to breakage, and Mick suspected it was because he kept pushing himself away. He had called once, allowed Josef to get a word in and then he hung up. Sure, it might have been a dick move, but Mick could no more talk to him than he could see him in person.
And he didn’t want Josef to think that he had done anything wrong, he had saved Beth’s life, but Josef was old enough to understand and not to be hurt by it.
Josef’s rejection of Mick’s new needs would hurt all the more.
So Mick buried himself in work to the point where he forgot to feed, and he somehow managed to make it back to his apartment before he lost control and an innocent human paid the price, all the while denying what both his body and his very own sanity needed.
It was the last straw.
After two glasses of blood he made his way back into the crowded streets of Los Angeles, deciding to walk to clear his head. The distance to Josef’s apartment was far, if that’s where he would end up, but Mick almost felt human again as he recovered from the effects of careless starvation. Josef would be pissed and hiding it all too well, but he would be happy to see Mick too. It would show in his eyes and in conversation, in how he relaxed rather than hold himself just tense enough to be on guard, like he did with everyone else. That was one of the things he loved about Josef, how they could just relax in each other’s company, their bodies not even realizing it until Mick left feeling rejuvenated.
Maybe that was he needed: to be revitalized and have their sire bond coaxed to normalcy. Josef would lead if Mick wanted him to, there was no doubt of that. The older vampire always had a soft spot for him and always jumped in to involve himself whenever Mick gave so much as a hint.
But if this all didn’t go back to the way it used to be, would he have the strength to face Josef and say what he had to say, refusing to strain their relationship any further?
The doubts were gnawing at him, sapping what little control over his blood-lust he had remaining.
The city was too alive tonight, the lights bright enough to hurt Mick’s eyes and the sharp sounds of cars speeding by and human voices shouting blurring into a cacophony of noise, assaulting his head until he all too willingly retreated into the darkness, contenting himself with thoughts of Josef smiling at him and telling him to let go.
Let go of what? Mick always wondered, but the question never drove him insane.
Josef was always so sure, sure enough for the both of them; it wouldn’t hurt this time to leave something to him. It wouldn’t hurt anymore if Mick just handed over some responsibility, took his turn and waited for Josef to take his.
The entrance to Josef’s sprawling, state-of-the-art and somewhat charming place of residence was always open to Mick, so he had no need to wait to be granted entrance. He was still getting used to his non-human strength and his lack of patience, however, causing him to kick open the door to Josef’s study without thought. He could sense him in there, quiet save for his breathing, fortunately alone and playing a game of pool, no doubt to unwind after a successful day.
Mick had avoided his own apartment as much as he could, knowing it was where Josef liked to unexpectedly show up, pretending he was there for the blood he always complained about - which he deemed as horrid and insufficient - when Mick knew that it was to check up on him. He’d drop a news bulletin or a piece of advice or three and make his way right back out seamlessly.
He would have told him to stay after their sire bond had been kindled, an offer he knew Josef would never take him up on. So Mick had stayed out, working his usual late nights and early mornings and even braving the sun, pushing himself further and further. All the while probably hurting Josef more than he had intended.
He could have knocked, could have even tried the door handle, but everything had become complicated lately where Josef was concerned.
And there he was leaning over the pool table: back facing Mick and perfectly fine, barely sparing Mick a glance as he continued playing.
Except Mick knew what it was: Josef was hiding his relief and his surprise at Mick catching him unprepared rather than the usual other way around. He wasn’t disappointed at seeing Mick, no, the younger vampire could smell his tightly tampered down happiness, but it killed Mick that Josef still had to pretend, that Mick’s long absence had exacerbated it all the more.
“Nice to see you too, Mick. If you missed me that much you could have called. Or emailed me a love letter. Maybe something with a sappy verse or two.”
“I haven’t had time, Josef,” he growled, though only after confirming the third time over that his friend was in perfect condition. No one had gone after him, no one had marked him, the smell of blood in the room was an undercurrent and all too human. Not to mention that Josef was clearly his usual snarky, detached self. Mick retracted his quickly interjected words once he caught a glimpse of the kicked puppy look on Josef’s face, there for no more than half a second before it faded. He sighed, “I've been busy.”
His long-time friend put down the pool cue and turned to face him, most of his face obscured as he picked up a wine glass and drained the blood it contained. “I’m well-aware. At first I thought you were busy with Beth, then after I got about three dozen of her voice mails I sent someone to check up on you.” And was that a hint of jealousy Mick detected in Josef’s usually impenetrable voice?
Of course Josef would think he had been busy with Beth; Mick hadn’t hidden his intentions for her from the get-go. Still, he might be able to feed some off of Josef’s completely unfounded and useless jealousy.
“I've been undercover,” Mick filled in, even though Josef must obviously have found that out when he sent someone to stalk Mick. The idea of Josef that concerned about him made fire start licking his ribcage, made him have to swallow harder than before to reign in all the things he wanted to say. “And I didn't want to put anyone close to me in danger.”
Josef refilled his glass, refusing to share more than a brief few seconds of eye-contact with him. “Aww, so I am your friend and not just your punching bag. Or knight in impeccably shining armor, depending on the occasion.”
It was startling how much it hurt, how blunt the claws were as they pulled and tore at his throat, at his heart and at his knees… anything they could reach. “Josef...” All the words he wanted to say suddenly didn’t matter so much as the fulfillment of his impulses could. Josef was always one for words: I’m a lover, not a fighter, but Mick suspected Josef would respond all too well if he took charge.
“Oh, Mick,” Josef bit out, his words stalling, filling in the gaps Mick had tore in their relationship. “So self-sacrificing. How the world needs saving before you do. I swear, the last fifty times you've come here you had a job for me. Not that I mind. You suck the boredom right out of my life,” he grinned but it seemed strained. Josef really had missed him; their sire bond went two ways after all. “Luckily for you I make sure I’m always around for when you come calling.”
And Mick hadn’t returned the favor: useless, cowering among the human crowds of Los Angeles, unable to explain…
“I missed you too, Josef!” Mick gave in, exasperated, relieved to see the tense set of Josef’s shoulders dissipate. He had checked on his friend before Beth, after all. The very fact of that surged up until he was no more than several inches from Josef, hand reaching for his glass. Blood would clear his head, put them on more even footing. The first sip, purer than what he currently had back in his apartment, finally unfroze his tongue. “I haven’t felt the same since you turned me. It’s like I’m having a hard time keeping up with everything, trying to figure out where you fit in my life.”
“And I don’t fit?”
“No!” Mick cried. He accidentally broke the glass on the side of the pool table, not even aware until he smelled his own blood coating the air. He smelled Josef’s too, fuck he smelled Josef everywhere. He was coating the room, stealing his way inside Mick until they were indistinguishable. That was why he hadn’t been able to stay in his apartment; Josef had been so far away, like his place in Mick’s life really was gone as impossible as that sounded. “I just...,” Mick broke off, licking his lips, blood still coating his tongue. “I've been having these dreams about you. Nightmares, really, but during the day. It’s these protective surges, almost like there’s something after you, like I’m tied to you. I wanted to come but I haven’t felt this bond before and it terrifies me. These visions… I kept pushing them back but then I just couldn't anymore.”
He was here now, why couldn’t Josef just accept that?
The object of his frustrated affections pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket, took Mick’s hand in his own and wrapped the cloth around it. The broken skin healed perfectly over seconds later, but the gesture sent streaks of lightning up Mick’s spine. “It's the sire bond. Don't you remember the first time around?” Josef… always a simple explanation for everything.
“But it wasn’t like this,” Mick protested. He reasoned that he didn’t have time to deal with his feelings for Josef right now, not without the guarantee of absolute clarity. He didn’t have the energy when Josef was far older than he and certainly had no interest in Mick other than in friendship and as a potential business partner, if Mick ever planned on letting Josef push him around, that is.
And Mick hadn’t lied because it hadn’t been like this the first time. He had cherished Coraline before she had turned him and then after that there was no devotion, no attachment and only a pale remnant of the love he had once had toward her. That passion hadn’t died in her, a sore spot in Mick’s mind, but for him it was long since devoured. It was like the fire had been stoked, the wonder put to bed… the air sucked out of the room until Mick was left dizzy and reeling and knew he had to go it alone.
He wondered vaguely if that was how it worked. Maybe becoming a vampire through Coraline had turned the love he had held for her cold, but his friendship and brotherhood with Josef, while as a vampire and even during his brief stint as a human, had turned the doused coals hot once more. He’d heard about vampires falling for their sires before, but most of the time it was rumors at best and mistakes at worst. Sires didn’t normally tolerate that type of attachment, from what he’d heard at least.
Either way, he had tried clamping down on his feelings and he could no longer. Not without Josef knowing just what he had wrecked upon him.
“What can I say, Mick? The bond works different for everyone. Some sires don’t give a damn about their charges, for others their role as guide never goes behind that. I’ve sired a reasonable few, but you don’t see me keeping up relationships with them now, do you? For most of them I wouldn’t even come if they called.” Why did Josef have to get all heartfelt now? Mick shifted in place but Josef held up a hand for him to wait. “My point is that I’ve always been your friend, Mick, and I always will be, but I didn’t know this bond between us would screw things up as much as it has. I expected some changes, sure, but I never wanted you to ever feel unsure about anything. I was here the whole time.”
Mick nodded, squeezed Josef’s shoulder because he thought he could handle that much. “I know you were. I’m so sorry, Josef.”
His friend shot him a genuine smile which evaporated the hard-feelings between them, most of which Mick had caused. “No apology necessary. I should have forced this out of you a week ago.”
“But the sire bond… it’s usually never two-sided. Not like this.” The depth of it, how much I want to tear your damn clothes off right damn now.
Josef leaned against the edge of the pool table as if this conversation was wearing him out too, and Mick took a whole lot of comfort in that. It was a good sign overall, one that meant Mick could mold him down further without too much effort or continued patience. It meant he’d get Josef’s intentions out of him tonight, if he was lucky.
“In our case, it is.” Josef sighed heavily, fingers plucking at his immaculate tie. “My blood quota has gone through the roof since you hightailed it, hands shaking, sweating so much I have to change suits three times a day, the works. Not to mention you’ve cursed half of my meetings which, oh, I couldn’t even remember what I was there for, just wondered what the hell was keeping you away. I suspected it was the bond, or at least thought it made you completely oblivious to my continued existence.”
“Oh, god, Josef.” The thought of his friend and the person he loved more than anything believing Mick had forgotten about him made him overwhelmingly nauseous. Josef was more compassionate and emotional than he let on, always caving under Mick’s needs, and yet Mick had come so close to breaking him. Except Josef shook his head as if to reprimand him, grasped Mick’s hand and pulled him over to the window that commanded more than half the room. He had shared this particularly stunning view of the Los Angeles cityscape with Josef on occasion, but never had any moment shared more promise than this one. “I don't think I can...” Stop thinking about you, stop myself from wanting to be near you.
And of course Josef knew what he was talking about. “And I don't think I want you to.” Josef’s hand splayed out on the window as if holding himself steady; it disappeared just as quickly. “You working late tonight?” He mused quietly, selflessly giving Mick a way out. How could any part of him ever want to leave Josef again after what they had just shared? It was in far less words than was needed but comforted Mick for the time being.
“The job can wait,” Mick responded. “There’s other things that need my attention here.”
Josef sent him a grateful smile. “Glad to hear it.” He tipped his head close to Mick’s as they both gazed out at the twinkling, multicolored lights of their city and the nearly blood-red full moon hanging heavy in the sky above them.
They’d catch up, make up for lost time no matter what it took. As Josef’s finger planted itself beneath Mick’s chin, holding him in place as the former pulled himself closer, brushing his lips hesitantly over Mick’s own, needing a taste, Mick was surer and prouder of nothing else than Josef Kostan.